By Seth Williamson, Special to The Roanoke Times (10/7/2009)
A lot of American symphony orchestras would have loved to be in the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s collective shoes Monday night.
At a time when many big-name orchestras are wondering how to keep the doors open, the RSO had its biggest opening night ever. A capacity and record crowd of about 1,600 concert-goers showed up at the Roanoke Performing Arts Theatre for a program that spotlighted a beautiful young violin soloist whose genealogy includes the great Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
Monday night’s performance also illustrated the dictum that live music doesn’t have to be flawless to be moving. In the great “Brahms D Major Violin Concerto,” there was some uncharacteristically sloppy playing: out-of-tune woodwinds, bungled entrances by strings, and even a few horn clams.
But Natasha Korsakova played with authority beyond her years, handing in a performance that was by turns urgent and powerful and rhapsodic. In an era when there is no shortage of young performers with technique to spare but nothing to say, Korsakova played with mature insight and eloquent lyricism.
She played with a warm, sumptuous tone and in the difficult passages filled with double stops, she played precisely and with great clarity.
Korsakova got an immediate standing ovation and was returned to the stage several times by an audience that was whistling and shouting bravos. RSO members shuffled their feet and stamped their approval, and Korsakova returned the gratitude with an encore of the “Giga” movement from Bach’s “E Major Partita for Solo Violin.”
Swaggering fanfares from the brass marked the opening of Franz von Suppe’s beloved warhorse, the “Light Cavalry” Overture, with its familiar galloping “horsey” music that followed the fanfares.
The rich orchestra tapestry of Richard Strauss’ “Don Juan” got a vivid rendering by Maestro David Stewart Wiley and his players. This was followed by what I believe was the first Roanoke performance of Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2.”
Barely 15 years old, this sensual Latin dance has been a hit in concert halls the world over, and the RSO showed us why. It was a bravura performance with star turns from several orchestra wind soloists.
Maestro Wiley rewarded the raucous applause with two encores: the familiar “Pizzicato Polka,” and a rip-roaring version of the disco hit “A Fifth of Beethoven,” which featured a blazing electric guitar solo.
All in all, this performance was a promising omen for the new season.